Finding The Perfect Strap For A Formal Dress Watch Featuring Jaeger-LeCoultre
Welcome one and all to a very personal journey. Today, I’ll be discussing my experiences of sourcing a new and entirely appropriate strap for one of my all-time favorite dress watches — the Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Ultra Thin Jubilee. There is often a lot of discussion surrounding the nature of dress watches. And yes, it is true that the nature of formal attire is changing. But here is an example than can be defined no other way. The Master Ultra Thin Jubilee is a manually-wound, super-slim, two-handed slice of heaven. And while that pared-back simplicity might make it sound like a “strap monster” on paper, nothing could be further from the truth…
Pairing new straps with old watch heads is fun. It is also a pastime fraught with potential pitfalls. First and foremost, the character of the watch in question must be considered. What were the designer’s intentions? How and when is the watch supposed to be worn? True enough, you can sometimes get away with pairing a grossly incongruous strap with a watch head for effect, but when it comes to a piece like the JLC Master Ultra Thin Jubilee, that would most certainly be in bad taste.
Finding a matching strap may sound like an easy task. A dress watch is an extremely formal matter that calls for a respectable type of strap, and there are clear conceptions on what is considered as such. After all, those so-called strap monsters, which demand a rather exceptional strap, belong to a much more adventurous type of watch. But, what if the strap that a dress watch is equipped with, by default, doesn’t meet your taste? Suddenly a search becomes paramount!
Prelude: finding the watch
In 2012 I decided that a formal dress watch is missing in my collection. The offering for this type of watch from my then-favorite brand did not persuade me. Therefore I stretched my search across all brands that offer such a watch. I discovered a lot of beautiful watches covering a considerable price range. The brand that best met my idea of what I was looking for was Jaeger-LeCoultre, a very traditional and highly reputable Swiss brand. Its Master Ultra Thin family was my choice. But I could not yet decide on a particular model without having tried a few on the wrist. The end of the year was close, and so was the next SIHH, which used to take place in January. So I decided to use SIHH 2013 to choose my JLC Master Ultra Thin from the then-current collection.
The watch: Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Ultra Thin Jubilee
2013 turned out to be JLC’s 180th anniversary, and the brand presented a range of impressive commemorative pieces. Among them was an exceptional version of the Master Ultra Thin: the Master Ultra Thin Jubilee. There are two characteristics of this watch that made it extremely attractive. First, at that time, this watch was the thinnest watch on the market. Thanks to JLC’s rarely used caliber 849, the thickness, well, thinness, of this watch could be reduced to a mere 4.05mm at a diameter of 39mm. Second, this was an incredible value proposition because this veritable Haute Horlogerie piece from a respected brand came in a platinum case and cost €14,400 or $17,800.
To save space above the dial in order to keep the overall thickness to a minimum, the indexes are printed and not applied. For the same reason, the dauphin hands are plain and simple. The dial has an appealing fine-grained structure. The completely polished case tapers to an almost sharp rim. The lugs are minimal and very slightly bend downwards. You can find out more about this watch in Robert-Jan’s review.
Originally, the watch came on a high-gloss black alligator strap closed by a branded platinum buckle. I loved and still really love this watch a lot, but I didn’t like this high-gloss strap at all. So I started my search for an alternative. The watch’s lug width is 19mm, and the buckle has a width of 16mm. Because the watch is so extremely thin, its strap has to be very thin as well. Thus, my search parameters were defined.
An experiment: lizard
For such a classy watch, I considered a premium exotic strap the appropriate choice. As the watch itself already has a very clean, almost austere look, a plain calf or cordovan strap seemed too dull an option to me.
To break up the look of the original strap’s glossy broad scales, I thought the very fine scales of a lizard might be an exciting match. I’d never had a lizard strap before. I picked a dark brown color to match an elegant pair of dark brown shoes as I hardly ever wear black shoes.
From my perspective, this lizard strap matches the watch and creates an interesting contrast. For reasons that I can’t explain, this combination looks somewhat old-fashioned to me. Furthermore, this strap still appeared a bit too glossy.
Restrained elegance: matt alligator
I realized that getting rid of that flashy, shiny look only can be accomplished by a strap with a matt finish. So I returned to an alligator strap, but this time in matt. Again, I chose a dark brown color.
To me, this strap creates the perfect overall formal look that matches this watch. This is the look I wanted. It took me a bit of research to find a really thin alligator strap, as many alligator straps are padded. Well-made alligator straps with a carefully selected scale pattern take you to a price range where the result really should please you. In this case, it worked.
To also have a matching strap for a little less formal outfit including cognac-colored shoes, I added a matt alligator strap in a lighter brown. Such medium brown tones often come along in a more reddish hue, and so does this one. This strap is completely flat without any padding.
On this strap, the watch evokes a different impression. It appears less formal, which was my intention. Beyond that, it even takes on a sporty retro-chic. It does so without appearing old-fashioned. Comparing the two images showing this watch on matt brown alligator straps impressively reveals how a different strap can change a watch’s character, even if the main difference is only a slightly different hue.
The solution for the time being: matt beige alligator
And then something kind of weird happened. I came across a beige strap as the standard option on a white-dialed dress watch from another brand. I was, to say the least, enraptured.
It is not possible to say what it is that makes this combination so attractive to me. From an analytical perspective, I could assert that with such a bright strap color, the contrast between watch and strap mainly consists of a difference in structure, hence creating a very homogeneous combination. Also, when presented in brighter colors, the structures on the strap — in this instance, the scale pattern — become most apparent.
However, I should let you know that I am generally attracted by this hue of beige, ivory, or sand. Maybe, it reminds me of a beach or a desert. Whenever I see any kind of product in this color, my interest is piqued.
I love this watch on this strap. I don’t have matching shoes in beige. But who knows? Maybe, one day I create an elegant summer outfit consisting of those beige shoes, a linen suit, a Panama hat, and old-style brown horn-rimmed sunglasses, just to have the proper setting for this watch. Am I dreaming of summer on a cold and gray winter day? Can you blame me?
Which of the straps that I showed you do you like most on this watch?
Which of the straps that I showed you do you like most on this watch? Or would you go for something completely different? How strict are you about combining a watch and strap with your clothes? Let us know in the comment section!
Before I leave you to your own search for a bodacious strap to upgrade one of your watches, let me raise the issue of endangered species.
The demand for products made of exotic animals has been so high that many affected species have been almost or even entirely wiped out. To protect endangered species, many governments worldwide have agreed on a convention on trade regulations regarding these species (animals and plants) and products made thereof. As of February 2021, 183 nations have signed the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).
CITES has grouped species and genera into three appendices according to the degree of protection they need. All alligator species (except the Chinese alligator) are currently listed in CITES appendix II, meaning they are not necessarily threatened by extinction but require trade regulation to avoid posing a risk to their survival.
Every legally produced exotic strap carries a CITES tag when sold.
National authorities control the trade of products regulated by CITES. When manufacturers of watch straps import leather of potentially endangered species to a country that has signed CITES, detailed import documentation is necessary. To sell the straps made of that leather, a manufacturer must acquire CITES tags that document the leather’s origin and reference the import documentation. With these tags, it is possible to verify the legality of the straps. Every legally produced exotic strap carries a CITES tag when sold. In Germany, the IRV (Internationaler Reptilleder Verband, or International Reptile Leather Association) provides these tags, which you can recognize by the IRV logo on the seal, as you can see in the image above. You should keep these tags for your straps.